Saturday, February 15, 2020

String-Roasting in My Fireplace

Hooray!  It has been cold enough to have a fire!

I had hoped (and planned) for a day like this and so I had purchased two tiny Rock Cornish Game hens to cook in front of the fire.  I wanted to try string roasting again and this time get it right.  (Previously I tried it at a public cooking demonstration and it didn't turn out.  See this post here.)

What I wanted was a good fire that was putting out a lot of heat but also had some good embers.  I also needed to plan where the string would be:  The recommendation was to have it hanging from the mantel and to make it long, but my mantel wouldn't work for that.

My fireplace has a metal piece at the top of the opening, and that piece had a slotted hole in it.  Its original purpose is unknown to me but it looked promising for string roasting.  The only problem was that I knew the string would be short.

A long string is useful because you can get the meat to twirl, which twists the string first one way and then the other.  Basically, it is like having the meat turn itself on a spit, with little work from the cook.  But I knew I would make it work even with a short string.

When I started the fire, I took the birds out of the refrigerator so they could start coming to room temperature.  I knew I needed to wait 60 to 90 minutes for the fire to mature enough for cooking.

With two birds to cook at the same time, I decided to hang one below the other, using chopsticks inserted in them to act as connectors.  I know this description isn't very useful unless you already know what I'm doing; the pictures below will help.

I found an S-hook (made by my awesome blacksmith friends) and put it into the slot.  Then I estimated the total length the two birds would need, along with a little distance between them.  From there I estimated the longest distance from the top of the opening to the top of the first bird that I thought I could get away with, and cut a string four times that length.

It is important to have a pan below the birds to catch the drips and that figured into my estimation.  I chose the shortest pan I could use close to the fire and put it into the fireplace with two cups of water in it.

The chopsticks were inserted into the birds (two per bird), the long string was tied into a loop, and two more loops were tied at a length that would separate the birds but not too far apart.  I put in an effort to make those two loops the same length.  I also got all the strings wet.

I coated each bird with melted butter and many dried breadcrumbs.  No other seasoning was used.

Once the fire was ready, I put the loops on the chopsticks and hung the birds on the hook.  Here is the set up:

The long loop had each end over a stick and went over the S-hook.  The small loops connected the lower stick of the first bird with the upper stick of the second bird.  In this picture one of the loops is too close to the end of the stick.  Push the loops so they are snug up against the bird:  This keeps the birds balanced and stops the risk of the whole thing coming apart while cooking.

It was easy to get them spinning but with the short string, they didn't stay spinning very long.  The fire was hot and I didn't want to sit in front of it.  So I sat off to the side and used a long handled fork to keep the birds spinning.  Every few minutes I used the fork to push on a stick to twist the string.  Then I let it go and watched it spin until it slowed down again.  I thought this worked well.

It took about 45 minutes until my thermometer showed the meat was over 140 degrees F on both birds.  They were a lovely golden brown so I decided to take them down.  Unfortunately I lost control of them when unhooking the long loop and they fell down into the drip bowl.  This didn't harm the birds but it did dump the liquid all over the floor of the fireplace.  No drippings to try!

The birds rested on the kitchen counter while I quickly tidied the hearth.  (The cats were very interested in what I had left there!)

The red juices concerned me.
The Verdict

The birds were attractive to serve; it was fun to tell my guest taster about the cooking process while we ate dinner.  I served stuffing and a salad as side dishes.

The meat was tender, the breast was still moist, and the skin had some crisp and crackle to it.  

The flavor was good!  My guest taster wanted more salt but I didn't need it.  We enjoyed it.  I call it a success!

The only part that wasn't cooked enough -- there was still a lot of pink -- was where the thigh was pressed up against the rest of the body.  It was easy to fix with a minute in the microwave oven.  From this, I think I could have roasted the birds another 10 to 15 minutes without worrying about overcooking them.

I had thought about turning the birds while they were cooking to make sure the tops got as cooked as the bottoms, but with two tied together, I decided it was too risky.  I didn't want to drop them.  This was a good decision considering what happened when I took them off at the end.  Fortunately, the birds were cooked well top to bottom.  I think this worked because the fire was so big.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Magic of Fire -- A Book Review

I live in Southern California, where the idea of seasons is laughable to many who live elsewhere.  Yes, we have seasons but their differences are mild:  winter is colder (but no snow, maybe we get rain, rarely does it freeze), spring is typically cool ("May gray" and "June gloom"), summer is hotter and drier (but "hot" is a relative assessment), fall can be cooler (but it is our usual wildfire season, so expect hot and dry).

This puts my next statement in context:  It was cold enough that I was able to build a fire in the fireplace.  (That is, without overheating the room.)  That means it was an opportunity to cook!

I love cooking with fire.  I don't get the opportunity to do it very often as my home isn't set up for it unless the weather is cold enough.  I could try it outside but reference that wildfire comment made above; we are all very aware of the danger a single spark poses.

So I grabbed that opportunity, and will do so again if others arrive.

Fortunately, my fireplace is huge and raised up off the floor.  The area in front of it is all ceramic tile.  There are enough horizontal surfaces around it to give me working space.  *Sigh*, it is a lovely setup for an historical cook.

As the fire was getting started, I recalled a book I used in 2014 in a post for this blog: String-Roasted Chicken.

ISBN 1-58008-453-2
There are many aspects of this book I enjoy -- the drawings, the stories, the recipes, and the cooking ideas -- but the one I want to focus on is Mr. Rubel's description of the different fire types you need for your cooking.  He includes how long the fire has been burning, the amount of embers and heat to expect, and each type's usefulness in cooking.

I'm going to paraphrase his words from pages 17 and 18:
New fire:  15 to 30 minutes after lighting; no embers; has limited use in cooking.
Moderately mature fire:  30 to 60 minutes after lighting; some embers; only useful for dishes that need a few embers.
Mature fire:  60 to 90 minutes after lighting; first five logs in fire reduced to embers that are producing most of the heat needed for cooking but still there is a gentle fire that helps, too.  Most recipes start with this level.
Long-burning fire:  More than four hours after lighting; has a substantial ash base which is what distinguishes it from the mature fire.  May have one of the flame types listed below. 
Gentle:  one or two logs burning lazily; slow ember production
Moderate:  two or three logs burning with some energy but flames only a few inches long; there is a hot bed of embers, enough to harvest a fresh amount every 10 to 15 minutes
High:  three or four longs burning fiercely; a substantial bed of embers and more being produced rapidly; long flames
What I like about his description is that I now have a way to judge either what recipe to make or what fire to aim for.  Do I need a long, slow heat to cook beans?  Do I need the more focused heat from a lot of embers?  Mr. Rubel tells us what fire he recommends for his recipes but I can extrapolate from there for recipes from other books.

So what did I cook over my first fire of the season?  Nothing precisely from his book but it did inspire me to try some techniques I haven't used in a long time as well as a new one.

The easiest, but still wonderful, recipe is for Roasted Onion Salad. I wrote about it in 2013 but baked the onions in the oven.  This time I set the onions in the fireplace and let them roast by the fire, with an occasional turn.

As the fire changed, I moved the onions around to keep them cooking.

They came out beautifully tender and mild.  After they were peeled, I sliced them and dressed them with a quality balsamic vinegar, freshly grated nutmeg, and a dash of olive oil.  I served them with grilled sausages for a light, flavorful dinner.  (I tried to grill the sausages over embers but didn't have enough to make it work.)

The next day was still cold so I kept the fire going and tried out cooking in my big ceramic pot.  An important part of cooking with ceramic is getting it warmed up slowly to avoid thermal shock.  I put the empty pot on the hearth as the fire was rekindled and turned it a few times to warm it evenly.

Then I added the ingredients for a chicken and vegetable stew:  chicken thighs, garlic cloves, cabbage, young potatoes, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, onions, fresh thyme, ground pepper, salt, lemon slices, and water.

I put in the thyme and about half of the veggies first.

Then the chicken and spices on top of that.

I topped it off with the rest of the veggies and the sliced lemon, with water to cover.

The cover went on and the pot was moved close to the fire.

I turned it to put the cooler side towards the fire every 30 minutes or so as the fire grew in size, embers were produced, and the contents warmed up.  Then I moved the pot onto the bricks.

At this point the pot was hot all the way through, so I just checked on it and the fire every hour or so.  I let the stew cook most of the day (to the fire at 11:30 am, it was ready for dinner around 6pm).

It was a good stew!  It needed more seasoning -- especially salt -- but the meat was cooked, the water turned to broth, and all the vegetables were tender.  I dished the vegetables and broth into a bowl then used tongs to put a piece of chicken on top.  It was a complete meal, along with a glass of wine, of course!  (For the leftovers, I added some red wine and more salt and pepper before I reheated it.  Yum!)

I want to point out an advantage of using the bricks.  The fireplace floor is below the tiled hearth so the bricks give me a higher floor, making it easier to move the heavy pot in and out without having to lift it up.  This is important considering I'm sitting sideways to the fire and have to lean over to move the pots!

That evening I got out my small iron kettle and filled it with course sea salt.  I decided to make Hard Eggs, which I wrote about in 2012.  I buried four eggs in the salt, set it near the fire for an hour or so, then moved it even closer before going to bed.

The next morning I dug the eggs out of the salt to see how they had cooked.

They looked good, but the telling is in the peeling, and this is how they turned out.

Two were obviously cooked more than the other two, to the point where they looked dark and rubbery.  But we ate them anyway, just to see.

The lighter ones were really good:  the flavor was deeper, almost caramel-like, than a typical hard-boiled egg.  The surface was slightly salty, which surprised me.  I think the salt may have infiltrated the shell because the eggs were slightly damp when they went into the salt.  I am not a big hard-boiled egg fan but I did like these very much.

The darker ones were too chewy, too rubbery for my liking, but they were still edible.  I suspect that I moved the kettle too close to the fire when it was very hot.  The salt is very good at moderating the heat around the egg (which is why they didn't explode) but it can only do so much when the fire is hot.

Mr. Rubel brings up this point, too, on page 81, "Roasted Eggs" (in ashes):
While these instructions are easily stated, this is, in fact, one of the most difficult recipes in this book to master.  If the buried eggs get too hot too quickly, they soon explode with a muffled "pop."  If they are less hot, but still too hot, and especially if too hot for too long, they dry out in the all-night baking.  But if the ashes are too cool, the eggs don't cook fully.  Perfect warmth maintained for 8 hours results in eggs of lovely golden hues and a delicate flavor.
I achieved the golden hue and delicate flavor for two of the four eggs.  Between that, the stew, and the onion salad, I declare my fire-based cooking adventure a huge success!

I do recommend getting The Magic of Fire by William Rubel.  It is beautifully produced and has a wide variety of cooking techniques.  I am itching to try Fagioli al Fiasco, which has us cooking beans in a glass container.  When you read his writing, you know you are hearing the voice of long experience.  And that is the highest compliment I can give!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cracknells, Revisited

I was making Royal Frosting the other day, which requires egg whites and not the yolks.  I decided to take the opportunity to make cracknells again with those yolks.

To see the whole procedure, see the original post, "To make Cracknells".

This time I started with the yolks, 6 or 7, I hadn't quite remembered the amount.  This was about 1/2 of what I used to make cracknells the first time, so I chose to use 1/2 pound each of flour and sugar.

Considering the alternate recipes that used no yolks and all butter, I decided that was about right but if I needed to, I could put in more butter.

I also wanted to make a different flavor.  One of the alternate suggestions was caraway and rose water.  I LOVE caraway and I love rosewater, so why not both?

Here's the list:

1/2 lb flour
1/2 lb sugar
6 or 7 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon rose water
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 egg white and 1 tablespoon rose water, well mixed

Preheat the oven to warm, about 155 degrees F.

I mixed in the yolks and butter together into the mixed flour and sugar.  Then I mixed in the rose water and caraway seeds, and kneaded in enough extra flour to make the dough non-sticky.

The dough rolled out to about 1/4 inch depth on the floured silicone mat.  I cut the dough in rounds at about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.  That made a lot of them and they fit well in the pan.

I kept rolling the dough and cutting out shapes until I had used up all the dough.

Then I poked holes with a fork and brushed glaze well over each one.

They baked for four hours at that temperature; at the 2 hour mark I loosened them from the pan.  A few cracked but I pushed them together for the rest of the baking.

After the four hours, I turned off the oven and let them sit in the oven overnight.

The next day, I took them off the pans.

The Verdict

Oh my, yes, these are good!  The caraway was there but understated.  Slightly sweet and very crispy.  I could not taste the rose water at all.  And I was still glad I used a glaze.

Some were missing before I took the picture...
These things are addictive.  I want to just keep nibbling on them.  If any survive, I want to try them with cheese and wine as a dessert.  Just having one while drinking some wine was good!  Success again!

Try making them.  They are easy and tasty and different from a cracker and from a cookie.  A nice way to surprise your guests.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Lumbardy Tartes -- The Sequel

Yesterday I wrote about my first attempt at making a Lumbardy Tart -- a savory beet-filled pie from the Dining with William Shakespeare book.

I kept thinking about it and realized I really needed to make it again, and make it thicker and more flavorful, if I could.

So here we go, Attempt Number Two!  My redaction for a 9-inch pie pan.

My Redaction (see the previous post for more details)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F or 425 degrees F if using a glass or ceramic pie pan.

I made the same pie crust as Ms. Lorwin did and loved it even more.  It came out drier than the first attempt, which made it easier to work with.  It rested in the refrigerator while I made the filling.


1 1/2 lb beets
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup currants, soaked in boiling water for 3 minutes then drained
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Following Ms. Lorwin's directions but using the above quantities yielded a 9 inch pie pan that was adequately filled.

Stuffed to the brim!
I used the same little cutters to make a design on the top crust.  This time the dough didn't stretch as much, plus the holes were cut further apart.  I like the way the design turned out.

I was using a ceramic pan so I baked it at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, then at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes.  This seemed about right.

Not even a tad overbaked.
The Verdict

The crust was crispy, flaky, and tasty, just as before!  I liked that it didn't come across as overbaked, not even a little.

The thicker filling was more impressive visually.  One piece was quite filling.

Look at that flaky crust!!!
But the flavor was so much better!

The beet flavor was still dominant but having more currants made it more balanced.  Their bit of chewy sweetness added an interesting twist as you ate it.

I used four times the amount of spice as Ms. Lorwin called for.  This meant that you could actually taste the cinnamon and ginger, but their flavors were not too much.  They were supporting characters and I really only knew they were there when I focused on them; otherwise they added a wonderful depth.

I used the same amount of melted butter as for an 8 inch pie and think this was just right for the 9 inch pie.  Not greasy on my lips but nicely rich.

Now I would say this wasn't a pie that was made of beets (as I would consider saying for yesterday's post) but a pie that started with beets and became so much more.  The other flavors made it intriguing.

Success again!  I am so glad I tried it again.  I recommend it as a surprising main course for a light dinner, and the leftovers are just as good.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Lumbardy Tartes, and a Happy New Year to You!

The New Year is upon us: 2020!  I wish us all a good year -- to everyone in the world and to the world, too.

This is the beginning of my ninth year of blogging.  I continue to be astonished that I am able to do it regularly and successfully.  My regular guest tasters have commented that my historical cooking "never disappoints", to which I respond with "Whew!"  because I know that I don't know how the recipe will turn out but I try it out on them anyway.  (But usually I have a back-up plan just in case the meal is a flop.)

For the record, this is my 190th post (!!!!) and at the time of this writing I have over 80,000 page views.  I typically see about 1000 page views in a month; compare that to the 1000 page views I had in my first year of blogging.  Again, astonishing!


I was wandering through my local farmers market recently, enjoying my first arepas (the sauce was particularly amazing) and wondering which vegetables should come home with me, when a table full of beets caught my attention.  They were a good size -- not too big -- and they had their greens still attached, unlike what I find at the grocery store.  There were red beets and golden beets.  The price was right, too.

Once I had them home, I perused my cookbooks for ideas.  What was really appealing was Lumbardy Tartes, from Dining with William Shakespeare, by Madge Lorwin.

ISBN 0-689-10731-5
I've tried two other recipes from this book:  My Salmon is Soused and How to Pickle Mushrooms.

Today's recipe is on page 238, and is titled

"To Make Lumbardy Tartes"

Take Beets, chop them small, and put to them grated bread and cheese, and mingle them wel in the chopping, take a few Corrans, and a dish of sweet Butter, & melt it then stir al these in the Butter, together with three yolks of Eggs, Synamon, ginger, and sugar, and make your Tart as large as you will, and fill it with the stuff, bake it and serve it in.

John Partidge, The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin

Ms. Lorwin provides the original recipe and its source and then gives us her "working version", i.e. her redaction.  That is the one I decided to try.

The Working Version

1 pound fresh young beets
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated mild Cheddar cheese
1/4 currants, parboiled
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons butter, melted.

The pastry
2 cups sifted unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg, separated

I used all of the red and most of the golden beets.

Actually used 1 1/2 sticks of butter.  And water, of course!
Peel the beets -- this is best done with a potato peeler -- and grate them into a mixing bowl.  Add the sugar and stir until it melts.  Mix in the bread crumbs, grated cheese, currants, spices, and egg yolks.  Then stir in the melted butter.  Cover and set aside while you are making the pastry.  The instructions for making the pastry are on page 31.*

Divide the dough into two parts, the part for the bottom crust a bit larger than the piece for the top crust.  On a floured work surface, roll out the piece for the bottom crust to fit an eight-inch pie dish and fit it into the dish.  Then roll out the piece for the top crust.

Spread the filling evenly in the dish and cover it with the top crust.  Seal the edges with the tines of a wet fork and trim off the surplus pastry.  Punch fork holes in the crust and brush it with egg white.  Bake at 450 degrees for twenty minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake twenty-five minutes longer.  Serve slightly warm.

*Pastry instructions from page 31:  To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt together into a large mixing bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of the butter and crumble it into the flour until it is like fine meal.  Dice the rest of the butter into 1/4-inch cubes and stir them into the flour mixture.

Add [the cold water] to the egg yolk ..., and stir until well blended.  Pour the mixture over the flour-butter mix and stir quickly until a ball of dough can be formed with the hands -- if more liquid is needed, add additional [water], one tablespoonful at a time.  

My Notes

Preheat the oven before you start!  I forgot that and had to wait after the pie was made before it could bake.

I decided to make the crust first so it could rest before I rolled it out, which I have found to be a good idea any time I make a pie crust.

I could have used my food processor to mix the butter with the flour-salt mixture but decided to mix it all by hand.  I thought the instructions to mix in some of the butter and then the rest was interesting.  I didn't just stir in the small cubes but mixed them in more thoroughly, just not as much as the 1/2 cup.

Once the water/egg yolk mixture was poured over the flour mixture, I stirred it with a wooden spoon.  The whole thing came together quickly and I didn't need my hands to form the ball.  The dough then was wrapped in plastic and placed in the refrigerator until I was ready to roll it out.

Freshly mixed.  Almost untouched by human hands.
Then I turned my attention to the beets.  After removing the tops, I weighed out 1 pound, which used all of the red beets and most of the golden beets.  The food processor made short work of grating them and, thankfully, kept the juice inside the container instead of on my clothes.

I think the red and gold are pretty!
Ms. Lorwin called for 3/4 cup of mild Cheddar cheese; I decided to use extra sharp Cheddar cheese and put in a full 1 cup.

As for parboiling the currants, I decided that what really needed to happen was to get them softened.  The currants went into a bowl, had boiling water poured over them, and then they sat for 2 minutes, after which I drained them.

When the filling was mixed, I prepared to roll the dough for the crust.

But once mixed, everything was beet red.
At first I rolled the dough on a floured countertop.  But it was pretty moist and wanted to stick to the counter despite the flour dusting, so after I did the bottom crust, I changed to using the silicone rolling mat, which made it easier to move the crust.

I used a 9 inch pie pan so the beet mixture did not fill the pan.

Instead of pricking the top crust with a fork, I used some small cutters and cut out a design.

The challenge was getting the design centered on the tart.
I really liked the advice to seal the edges with the fork.  Then I brushed the top with egg white beaten with a little water.

I watched the baking times carefully as my oven tends to cook things faster than what I expect.  Sure enough, I started worrying that the top would over-bake after 15 minutes at 450 degrees F.  It was getting brown and threatening to burn.  So I pulled the pie out for the last 3 minutes, let the oven cool to below 350 degrees F, then put the pie back in the oven while it heated up to 350.  Even then, I only let it cook another 20 minutes.

The crust was just a tad overcooked.
The Verdict

I served it as a main course, with a tossed green salad as a side dish.  The tart was pretty to see and smelled good!  The crust looked puffy, which was a good sign.

I also liked that the filling was firm enough to stay in the crust when a piece was cut -- no sliding filling at all.

The crust was wonderful, despite being a little overbaked.  Crispy and flaky yet with enough structure to keep its shape when served.  Buttery in flavor, too.  It didn't stick to the pan, and it was flexible, easy to roll out, and very forgiving as I tried to center it on the pan.  I think it is one of the best pie crusts I have ever made.

The filling had a dominant flavor of beets, and was just a bit sweet to enhance the savory aspect of it.  The currants added a nice chewy, sweet blast.  The spices were really subtle, and I think I would add more if I made this again.  I wanted to taste them and it was hard to tell they were there.  The butter in the filling was there but I think I would put in less just because I kept getting a buttery film on my lips when I ate it that I didn't like.

I couldn't taste the cheese at all, which makes me want to put in more.  I had room in the 9-inch pan to put in more beets and more cheese, so I think that would be a good idea.

In total, it was so good!  Flavorful, tasty, filling.  We had two pieces each as the main course.

It almost felt sinful having "pie" for dinner, especially because it was so pretty and looked like it could be a fruit-filled dessert pie.

One guest taster remarked that she liked how the texture of the shredded beets was there in the filling.  She found that very appealing and I agreed with her.

I had the leftovers reheated for lunch and was pleased to see how well the crust held up in the refrigerator and then heated in the microwave oven.  No soggy crust at all.


Since I had extra room in the pan, if I make this again I would use more beets, more cheese, and more spices. I want a crust that is stuffed full.

I thought Ms. Lorwin's direction to use 1 teaspoon grated bread crumbs was silly at first.  One teaspoon?  It seemed like it would not be enough.  But she was right:  the filling was firm enough and didn't need to have more crumbs to hold it together.  Also, the filling was not juicy, so no extra crumbs were needed to help that.  Forgive me for doubting, Ms. Lorwin!

HEADS UP!  I redid the recipe the way I wanted to try.  Tune in tomorrow for the sequel!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Chocolate Biscotti - One of My Most Favorites

I always reserve the last post of the year for one of my Most Favorite recipes, and this year it is one I found in 2004 and have been making ever since. 

The name is Chocolate Biscotti, but it is really "Chocolate plus whatever else you want to add in Biscotti."  You can shift the flavor and the experience around quite a bit depending on what you mix into the dough, or you can leave it "as is" and enjoy it as straight chocolate.

Keep in mind that, as a biscotti, it is baked twice, and so it crisp and a bit hard.  This makes it perfect for dunking! 

Without further delay, I give you one of my favorite recipes, especially good to make and give away during the holidays.

Chocolate Biscotti

2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon (or less, to taste) salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 to 2 cups add-ins:  nuts, chocolate chips, crushed peppermint sticks, etc
powdered sugar

So simple!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a large cookie sheet.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

Whisk slowly so the powders don't go flying!
In another bowl that can go with a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and beat well.

Sugar, butter, and eggs.
Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough.

It should stick together but is somewhat dry.
Stir in add-ins.

Stiff dough means you have to work to distribute the add-ins evenly.
Split dough in half.  With floured hands, compress the dough to remove air spaces.  Shape each half into a log that is about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long, and is slightly flattened.  Round off the ends.

Place the logs on the cookie sheet and sprinkle them lightly with powdered sugar.  Leave space between them as they will spread.

Both shaped; one powdered.

Bake the logs for 35 minutes or until they are slightly firm to the touch.  Cool them on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes.  Leave the oven on.

Fresh out of the first bake time.  The puddles are melted candy.
On a cutting board cut the biscotti, either across or diagonally, into slices about 3/4 inches wide.

I like using a bread knife to slice them.
Place each slice cut side down on the cookie sheet and bake another 10 minutes.

Cool on a rack.  Store in an air-tight container or freeze for future use.

Cooling after the second bake.
My Notes

I made this for Christmas giving, so I added crushed peppermint sticks.  One aspect of putting candy into the dough is that some of it will melt and run onto the cookie sheet.  Sometimes this will scorch and taste burnt, so if you see that, peel it off before you slice the logs.

This recipe is very reliable.  The only issue I've had is that sometimes the dough doesn't come together with just two eggs; if this occurs, I mix in a little milk until it forms that "stiff dough."  For this rendition, I added 1/4 cup milk and it all came together beautifully.

Too dry but a little milk made it just right.
Sometimes the dough is sticky, even with flouring my hands, so it is fine to cover it and chill it for 30 minutes or more. 

I like to slice it on the diagonal, so I shape the logs like parallelograms.  I slice parallel to the ends.  This makes the ends about as big as the regular slices.    Also, you might not want to bake the ends the second time as they tend to get overcooked.  They taste just fine without the second baking.

I aim for this shape.
The Verdict

Success?  Always! 

The flavor is a deep enough chocolate to satisfy a chocolate lover.  It is sweet but not overly so.  The add-ins can make it fun (peppermint!) or more savory (toasted nuts) or intriguing (white chocolate chips). 

The biggest problem is making them last long enough around the house to share with others!

I hope you enjoy one of my favorite recipes.  Merry Christmas and Happy Whatever You Love to Celebrate!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

"To make Cracknells"

I am still enjoying a book I bought recently, titled John Evelyn, Cook. The first recipe I tried from it was for a Quaking Pudding -- see here for the post.

ISBN 0 907325 653
Today I was intrigued by Recipe #127, "To make Cracknells."  I wondered if they were a form of cracker, my neighbor thought they might be like pie crust, and they also struck me as some form of cookie.

The recipe does not look complicated but it is vague about some of the quantities.  I made sure I had ample amounts of all and crossed my fingers.

127. To make Cracknells.

Take a pound of sugar finely searsed, and a pound of the finest floure, mingle them together; take the powder of dry'd Orenge Pills, finelie sersed, mingle it amongst the flowre and Sugar such a quantity as you like, then take a little butter and as much egge yolkes as will make it into a very Stiff paste, then rolle them out very thin, putt them upon Papers verie well flowred, and pricke them thicke, beat a peice of the yolke of an egge with a litle rose or orenge flowre water, and wash them verie well over, and bake them in a slow oven before they be too hard raise them from your Paper, and then put them in againe to harden keep them neere the fire.

My Redaction

1 pound all-purpose flour
1 pound sugar
1/4 ounce dried orange zest (see notes below)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
15 egg yolks, beaten  (see instructions)

glaze:  1 egg yolk, beaten, divided
            1 teaspoon rose water
            1 teaspoon orange flower water

I ended up needing more than 1 dozen eggs!
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix well.  Add the orange peel and mix well.

Slightly sparkly from the sugar
Cut in the butter, as you do for making a pie crust.  Use your hands, if necessary, to make sure there are no big pieces of butter left in the flour mixture.

I didn't know in advance how many yolks were needed to make "a very Stiff paste" so I mixed in 2 at a time until the mixture pulled together in a ball.  I recommend you put in 10 yolks at first and mix them in well.  Then put in one at a time, mixing well, until you achieve the goal.  It will be a slightly sticky ball that holds together with only a gentle squeeze.

Just before there were enough yolks in it.  A little crumbly overall.
This is just right.
Flour your rolling surface and keep extra flour nearby.  Roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness or less.  I floured the top of the dough as needed to keep the rolling pin from sticking to it.  At first I rolled it on the countertop but found it worked better on my Roul'pat.  It made it easier to pick up the pieces, because they were slightly sticky.

As thin as I could take it, without the paste breaking.
I had to choose how to cut them.  I decided to use a 4 1/2 inch round cutter, so they looked generous.  I also cut some rectangles that were about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide.

The pieces were placed on well-floured pans and pricked many times with a small fork.

For the glaze, I beat the yolk then divided it into two small bowls.  I added the orange flower water to one and the rose water to the other, mixing each well.  I used a brush to put the glaze on each piece; I heeded Mr. Evelyn's direction to "wash them verie well over" -- I spread the glaze thinly but tried to cover each piece well.

Here, five were glazed with rosewater, the one with a notch used orange flower water.
As each tray (there were three) was pricked and glazed, it went into the oven.

I checked them every 30 minutes; after 2 hours I turned the oven to "warm" (175 degrees F) and left them for four hours.  Then I turned the oven off and left the pieces in overnight.  At the 2 hour mark, I loosened the pieces as directed.  I also loosened them again before leaving them in overnight.

All done.
The Verdict

There were 16 rounds and several rectangular pieces in total.

The first thing I noticed was that most of the round pieces had stuck to the pan again, so some broke when I took them off.  I think the pans could have used more flour on them.  Also, they didn't spread, which I appreciated.

The next noticeable thing was that the rounds weren't all dry all the way through.  The middles (and sometimes to near the edges) were still soft and a little sticky, whereas the rectangular pieces (narrower) were dry all the way through.  I think I probably should have cut smaller pieces, perhaps 2 inch diameter rounds.  This would give more to share around and a better chance of having each piece dried all the way through.

You can see the darker region on the round -- that is the sticky part.
This gave me some that were crispy (the ones with a soft middle) and some that were crunchy (dried all the way through), both of which I liked.  Neither were too hard to chew and both had the flavor come through.

And what was that flavor?  Definitely orange, definitely sweet (but not overly so).  The ones with the orange flower glaze were more "orangey" than the rose water glaze.  Both glazes gave a light floral perfume to the flavor, and I can say I really like the rose/orange combination.  The one piece I left unglazed for comparison was good but the glaze increases the flavor level, so I would always want to use a glaze.  I have no preference for the glaze flavor -- both were good!  The differences were subtle but there.

Success!  Here is a picture showing a top and a side view.  I estimate the thickness to be about 1/4 inch.  The glaze became shiny and the paste became dry all the way through.

When I first read the recipe (okay, the first three times I read the recipe), I had no idea what Mr. Evelyn meant by "Orenge Pills" -- I kept thinking, "What kind of pill is he talking about?"  Then I realized he meant "peels" and so I had to figure out how to get dried, powdered orange peel.

My daughter had the best idea: remove the zest off the oranges and then dry it, which is what I did.  I knew I was just getting the good part of the peel without the bitter white part.  So I did that with four small oranges (from my yard!), placed the zest on a pan, and dried it in a warm (175 degree F) oven for about 30 minutes.  Once it cooled I rubbed it with my fingers to break up the clumps.  I considered pounding it in my mortar but decided to keep the particles as big as they were.  I'm glad I did, as I think they added a good orange flavor.

Here is the picture I took about it.  The composition made me laugh!

Finally, the book's editor added a footnote to this recipe:  "Related to the French craquelins.  See Hess, pp. 155-6 for a discussion of cracknells."

I checked with my fellow historical cooks about the Hess book.  My friend JH sent me a picture of the pages; it lists two versions of the cracknell recipe.  One is flavored with caraway and rosewater, and also contains yeast.  There is a half pound of butter and no egg yolks at all.  The other uses 4 yolks, 1 white, and 2 ounces of butter and is flavored with rosewater and coriander seeds.  Neither uses a glaze.  The first bakes in a "soft oven" and the other calls for "an oven that is not too hot."  A variation has them baked on buttered plates in "a pretty quick oven."

As for craquelins, they are defined as "made of the yolks of eggs, water, and flower; and fashioned like a hollow trendle [a cupped disk or ring]."  Another reference says they are to be "thrown into boiling water and when they rise, they are to be lifted out, wiped, and baked", which is a medieval technique.

I can see why making the shape like a ring is recommended -- it would avoid the sticky center I found even after a long, slow bake.

These would be good as a light dessert, perhaps served with cheese and wine, especially if they were smaller.

I still think the glaze is necessary!